Saturday, September 20, 2008

Science funding.

This article confirms my previous impressions, and is very depressing. This past week the government promised roughly 200 years worth of the entire NSF annual budget to bail out the banking system. Since 2003 the US government has spent another 200 years worth of the the entire NSF annual budget in Iraq. After two years of "level funding", and the certainty that there will be no real budget passed before the election, what we really need is the prospect of another year of frozen budgets.

In related news, I've come to the realization that my research program is "too big to fail".

Update: I might as well put all of my nonscience stuff in one posting. Looking at the text of the proposed financial bailout bill here, I am aghast because of this section:
Decisions by the Secretary pursuant to the authority of this Act are non-reviewable and committed to agency discretion, and may not be reviewed by any court of law or any administrative agency.

Let me get this straight. The Secretary of the Treasury gets incredibly broad authority to use up to $700 billion to prop up the financial markets in essentially any way he decides is appropriate, and his decisions are explicitly not reviewable ever by anyone, including the judicial branch?! I'm no lawyer, but isn't this, umm, absolutely insane?


Anonymous said...

Any scientists would like to run the 2012 to save the US ???

Anonymous said...

The issue would be finding someone with standing to trash that in court. Marbury vs Madison already established separation of powers, but according to the Inertents, law students, and lawyers I know/have read, the Supreme Court (and lots of lower courts) is traditionally eager to punt anything they can since their rulings have such drastic legal impact. Punting because someone doesn't have standing would follow that "honorable" tradition of jurisprudence.

Anonymous said...

Dr. Strangelove for bailout precedent.

DeSadeski: "The doomsday machine is designed to to trigger itself automatically. It is designed to explode if any attempt is ever made to untrigger it."

Strangelove: "And so, because of the automated and irrevocable decision making process which rules out human meddling, the doomsday machine is terrifying. It's simple to understand. And completely credible, and convincing."

Same anticipated bottom line results, too.

Anonymous said...

I call it "socialism for the rich". They are gonna bail out the companies but not the people who lost their homes to foreclosures. This is the same idea republicans had been preaching for the past 50 years. When the wealthy people are better off, so will the overall society eventually. Who cares whether the unemployment is surging?? They are poor people, they can die!

Anonymous said...

Anonymous said...

I call it "socialism for the rich".

That's right, socialization of the losses and privatization of profits... and it's nothing new, those old enough to remember the Savings and Loans bailout of the 80s will certainly experience a deja vu...

NONE said...

that's ok because Obama is going to win. Or so I keep telling myself.

Even then, if Obama becomes president with, say, 55-45 democratic majority in the senate, which seems very realistic, I will predict that conservatives will become strong believers in fiscal responsibility and will portray democrats as irresponsible tax-and-spenders. Universal healthcare will be democrats' first priority (and rather expensive in short-term, even though it will save trillions in the long run), and frankly, I think science budgets will remain frozen for the next few years no matter what.

This is all very depressing indeed, especially since relatively miniscule (in grand scheme of things) investments in science and technology would yield tremendous benefits in the long - with strong impact on energy independence, climate change, healthcare, etc. Unfortunately it requires long-term vision that many politicians lack.

Unknown said...


I read an AP article this morning quoting McCain saying that this bailout plan gives Paulson way too much power. I have not heard any opinion from Obama yet, but he can't stay silent for long as you would think this topic will come up in the looming presidential debate.

Douglas Natelson said...

Hey Aaron - Obama made a similar-sounding statement. I'd have more confidence in McCain's response to this if (a) he didn't think that the president has the authority to fire the head of the SEC (he doesn't), and (b) his economic plan hadn't been put together by Phil Gramm. Still, both sides seem to get the message that giving the executive branch unrestricted authority over $700B (actually more, if you read the text of the bill) with no oversight is scary.

Anonymous said...

The US is a sinking ship as far as science is concerned, and even an Obama victory won't stop the slide even if he doubles basic science spending. Europe is already the hottest place now for experimental high energy physics, and it's starting to lead in other areas too. Its a product of bad priorities, a sad K-12 education system, and an overly nutty huge religious population (creationism, etc).

IMHO start looking for positions/postdocs/fellowships in Europe or Canada.

CarlBrannen said...

I agree, the US does not have the money to fund all the things Obama has promised (i.e healthcare, etc.) and worse, as far as I know, he hasn't promised to ramp up physics funding per se. Increasing "science funding" likely means practical things like researching man-caused global warming, medicine, and alternative energy. The latest news just makes it that much more so.

As far as people who bought these houses losing their homes, 80% of these were purchased with very little money down, even $0 down, and have been lived in less than 3 years so the owners have very little to lose. In some cases it was cheaper to buy, then rent, because to rent you had to come up with a first and last month's rent, plus a damage deposit.

I suppose that what happens is that the government ends up the landlord on the property. It then sells it cheaply, just like all those HUD / FHA foreclosures I remember from years ago.

I used to wonder what happened to those foreclosure advertisements. The number must have crashed due to the housing bubble, and now they're back. I don't see this as
such a big deal.

What's particularly strange about economic cycles is that the larger crashes effect all nations more or less simultaneously. Almost every country on the planet had a great depression in the 1930s, no matter what political party happened to be in power there.

The business cycle is is a universal fact that is true of every capitalist country for 100s of years. It cannot be blamed on particular policies of one party or person because it is a universal behavior of all countries. If it were possible to stop the business cycle (and institute permanent wealth), someone, somewhere, would have done it many years ago.

When your leader tells you he is going to solve your economic problems (when what you really have is a healthy economy going through the usual business cycles) what he really means is that he is going to listen to bad economic theories, line the pockets of his buddies, and artlessly flail around while the economy marches on, largely ignoring him.

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